BOOK LOG 46: WHICH WAY TO THE WILD WEST?
by Steve Sheinkin
Since Jacquie Rogers, author of the Hearts of Owyhee western romance series, is a client and from time to time I have found myself editing (who would have thought, with that introduction?) western romances, I figured I should refresh my memory of what the Wild West really was. I was looking for some basic works on the topic when I came across this book, meant for youngsters. It did the job, though, reminding me of what the West was and stood for and it was thoroughly entertaining and informing.
One thing I’ve always commented on is a provincialism, in some ways more out of necessity than desire, in the teaching of American history. Those who grow up on the East Coast will get a much more thorough look at the nation’s history as it concerns the East Coast (certainly the earliest years), while those who grow up on the West Coast will get a more detail-oriented look at how the West was won (so to speak). And there will be a year in which regional history is the focus. This is to be expected, right? Meaning that it’s logical that someone who grows up in Washington State will find out more about Galloping Gertie than someone who grows up in New York City. (For those of you who didn’t grow up in Western Washington, Galloping Gertie was a suspension bridge that collapsed back in the 1940s due to high winds. There was film captured of the event, and if you went through the local school systems, you probably saw that clip of the wild winds, the bridge swaying, people running, and then, the bridge falling. And you probably saw it time and time and time again.)
Anyway, I was just saying that you tend to know more about the history in the area in which you grew up. As a result, even though I went to school in the West, I still didn’t know a lot about the West as it’s defined by Sheinkin (and generally; because, as I was reminded, terms like “West” and “Northwest” shifted depending on how far the nation had made its way across the continent). While the author does a great job of hitting the highlights (and lowlights) of the American expansion (as he notes, “the Wild West” can be defined by the continuing formation of the nation in the 19th century, and he roughly keeps the span of the book during that 100-year period), it’s the details that he reveals that I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn as a kid out in the (Pacific) Northwest, and when I mentioned a few to my husband, who grew up in NYC, neither had he.
So we learned stuff, the book was entertaining and educating, and while there was no mention of the “Arkansas Toothpick” (a folding dagger; and my questioning the use of the term is what led me to doing research in the first place), I learned lots of other stuff. You will too.
COMING UP: Poldarks, none of them like Mistress of Mellyn!